This July, 20 DAREarts Toronto Summer Campers delved into the Elizabethan era at Bloor CI and the TSA (Toronto School of Art), thanks to the generosity of Northbridge Insurance, the TSA, the TDSB, Coach Canada, and the Stratford Festival. The teens, aged 12 to 17, engaged in intensive arts workshops centered on Stoppard, Norman, and Lee’s Shakespeare in Love, led by DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon and Artist-Educator Jennifer Parr.
With only eight days ahead of them, our campers were eager to explore Shakespeare’s struggles with writer’s block and love’s inspiration and woes. The goal seemed daunting: the teens were dared to put on their own short performance that explored Shakespeare in Love! Assisting the teens were our three seasoned DAREarts youth mentors, Dante, Jaiden, and Ryan, and documenting their adventure was youth volunteer Dexter.
The first three days of camp were a whirlwind of workshops, and after being properly introduced to the plot of Shakespeare in Love they began their work as a burgeoning theatre company. Our youth volunteer, Dexter, describes the first moments of camp: “As people arrived they all congregated together and quickly began talking and laughing. The sense of community within the camp is amazing and as a newcomer it felt very welcoming, they all introduced themselves and included me in their conversations and circles.”
Actor Brendan McMurtry-Howlett of Shakespeare in the Ruff helped the teens explore how to make language come to life and make personal connections to the Bard’s words. Multi-discipline artist Cathy Elliott helped them brainstorm and paint their three 9-foot canvas backdrops together in groups. They also worked with actor Jamie Robinson, who helped each of the teens perfect their stage presence and voice!
On Monday, the campers met at the TSA to paint the backdrops, and through their discipline and teamwork they were rewarded with beautiful finished artworks by the end of the day. Costumes were made, script coaching happened throughout the day, and everyone was starting to feel confident in their roles.
Wednesday was our annual DAREarts Summer Camp trip to Stratford! With over half of the campers new to our summer programming, many had never been to the picturesque town or had even experienced live theatre. The trip began with a 2-hour drive from Toronto to Stratford, and upon arrival we were brought into the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s costume warehouse for a tour. The teens learned the history of many of the costumes, and were thrilled to be able to try on several pieces. After having lunch in the Festival Theatre park, we journeyed to the Avon Theatre to see Shakespeare in Love, followed by a Q&A with actors Brad Hodder and Ruby Joy. The day ended with a trip to Boston Pizza, where the teens had the chance to unwind and reflect on their experiences at Stratford. We then boarded the bus for the long journey home.
For their final rehearsal day, the teens were more inspired than ever to make their performance lively and powerful. They immersed themselves in the complex scenes, which included a full cast stage fight and plenty of snappy dialogue. On Friday morning, their performance day, the teens arrived an hour early to do two full run-throughs before the audience started arriving.
DAREarts Founder & President, Marilyn Field, welcomed the audience to the “hottest show in town,” and we were grateful to be joined by several VIPs including Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz, TDSB Superintendent Annie Appleby, and TSA representatives Brian Bradstreet and Elizabeth D’Agostino. The teens took to the “stage” and pulled our audience into the world of Shakespeare with perfect timing, zero missed lines, and flawless support of one another!
Our youth volunteer, Dexter, also took on a role in the performance himself. After the show, he reflected: “Everyone was very nervous and I had my doubts as the run-throughs still were a little stiff. But everyone pulled it together and all the transitions and sequences went really well. The end result was amazing and I’m so proud of all the campers for pulling this off in so little time. This was an honour to be a part of and seeing it turn out so well was truly amazing.”
After the show, a reception allowed the teens and their families to connect with us about their experience. One parent shared that her son needed this opportunity to take his skill with people to the next level. Another noted that her child with Asperger’s had flourished in our program. The teens themselves congratulated each other on a job well done, and stayed in the gym far beyond the end of the reception. Our campers had a very diverse array of backgrounds, personalities, and home situations – including parental abuse, bullying, dyslexia, autism, Asperger’s, etc. – but DAREarts gave them all a common goal and a true sense of belonging and friendship.
We are so proud of our teens, and look forward to seeing what other incredible feats they can accomplish in such a short amount of time!
DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. Our lead sponsors are Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group, and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.